Tado Shrine, near Kuwana in Mie, hosts its annual festival on May 4-5th.
Listen to Tado festival music piped from loudspeakers
Thousands of people from the local area around Nagoya flood this rural site each year to witness a bizarre ritual known as ageuma.
Horses ridden by 12 young men (chosen by lot as representive, albeit, 'juvenile' samurai) ride in a procession towards Tado Shrine.
Horse and rider then try to scale a 3m high muddy slope to the flat square of the shrine's main buildings, where the round starts again.
For the young, local men chosen as riders, reaching the top of the slope, still aboard the horse, is a rite of passage celebrated with jubilation. Many riders are thrown, and not wearing helmets, the potential for physical damage is great.
The crowds, from grandmas to glam girls, are huge, lining the route from the road to the steps of the shrine. Temporary, wooden stands are built for local residents and guests at the sides of the road, and the horses, riders and mostly drunken handlers proceed slowly up the hill, guiding the horse and young rider to a distance to gallop up the slope, all the while accompanied by music piped from loudspeakers.
Midday on a hot Sunday, the second day of the festival, we walked to Tado Shrine, left out of Tado station, down along the river.
Tado Shrine is visible on the hill to your right as you approach the main road ahead of you from the river. Stalls (yatai) - selling food and drinks - are squeezed between the houses and the wooden stands put up for spectators.
It was impossible to get a ringside position of the horses struggling up the slope unless you get here very early - prayers and other rituals start up at around 5am - or are prepared to force yourself through the crowd. We were neither, so for what it was like in earlier days view a movie on Tado Shrine's website.
Crowded and noisy, sake and beer to the fore, Tado Matsuri seems a bit about perseverance and determined tradition. Tired horses struggling up a muddy slope, spectators pushing each other through the crowd. We caught one horse kicking off, as we left, demanding a rest from the seemingly endless ordeal and sweaty pangeant, jumping up, its retainers pulled at its bridle and stuck the boot into its flanks to control it.
Tado Shrine is connected with the 1500-year-old legend of a white horse and the kami ('gods') of Mount Tado. Tado Shrine is the gateway for hikes onto trails criss-crossing Mount Tado.
Access to Tado Shrine is from either Kuwana or Ogaki on the Kintetsu Yoro Line. There is an infrequent bus to the shrine from Tado station or turn right out and walk about 20 minutes left along the Tado River bank after you come to the bridge.
There are numerous taxis at the station.
Kuwana is less than 30 minutes by Kintetsu Railways limited express train from Nagoya Station.
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Tuesday, May 08, 2007